Steamboat Buckwheat

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Steamboat Buckwheat

Eriogonum ovalifolium var. williamsiae

ListedJuly 8, 1986
FamilyPolygonaceae (Buckwheat)
DescriptionLow-growing, perennial plant with tiny oval, greenish white leaves.
HabitatHot springs in mineral rich soils.
ThreatsRestricted range, off-road vehicles.


Steamboat buckwheat, Eriogonum ovalifolium var. williamsiae, is a low-growing, densely matted perennial plant with tiny oval, greenish white leaves densely arranged in a rosette at the base of an erect stem, up to 10 in (25 cm) tall. Small, white flowers with pink mid-ribbed sepals are clustered at the ends of the stems. Steamboat buckwheat frequently spreads along the ground to form large mats.


Steamboat buckwheat grows on open slopes of loose, gravelly, sandy-clay soil derived from hot springs deposits. This plant is highly sensitive to changes in moisture and will die if too wet or too dry; thus, it is dependent upon the constant flow provided by the springs.


Historical collections of this plant are mainly from around Steamboat Hot Springs, Nevada, but it is thought to have been more widely distributed in the past. Two specimens from the 1930s refer to Reno Hot Springs as a collection site, although no plants grow there now. At Steamboat Hot Springs Spa, a nearby commercial development, no plants have been found even though the habitat is similar to sites of known colonies.

This species is presently represented by one site at Steamboat Hot Springs (Washoe County), Nevada, just to the south of Reno. Most plants are concentrated on 20 acres (8 hectares) within a larger area of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands. Steamboat Hot Springs is leased to Washoe County for eventual development as a recreational and interpretive site. The plant is locally abundant, but so restricted in its range as to be highly endangered.


Steamboat buckwheat is thought to have declined because of past development activities. Roads were built through the middle of several colonies, and recreational off-road vehicles have destroyed plants. One acre of habitat was appropriated in the late 1970s for construction of a post office. Because of its restricted range and low numbers, the species is vulnerable to any further disturbance of its habitat

Conservation and Recovery

The area around the hot springs has been designated an Area of Critical Environmental Concern and was fenced on three sides, the spring-side being left open. Although driving through the geothermal area is prohibited, off-road vehicles have illegally entered on the unfenced side, tearing up the ground and uprooting plants. Visitors have occasionally collected Steamboat buckwheat plants to adorn rock gardens.

During a field survey in 1981, no seedlings were found, indicating that the plant's reproductive potential in the wild is low. When damaged by vehicles or collected from the wild, the population can take years to recover. Recovery of this plant will require strict enforcement of off-road vehicle restrictions.

A full-scale outline of necessary recovery efforts was provided in the 1995 recovery plan for the species from the Fish and Wildlife Service. The plan's goal is to achieve reclassification to Threatened status by the year 2000. The plant will be considered for reclassification when, among other things, protective conservation easements or fee acquisitions have secured approximately 185 acres (75 hectares) of occupied habitat currently in private ownership. Other reclassification requirements are the establishment of cooperative agreements for approximately 80 acres (32 hectares) of occupied public lands and approximately 37 acres (15 hectares) of occupied state lands within a highway easement; and the development and implementation of comprehensive management plans on all occupied habit. Eventually, the hope is to delist the species altogether because of a full population recovery, although the 1995 plan notes criteria for achieving this goal would be premature.

To recover the plant, the plan suggests several actions, including the protection of habitats from adverse physical modifications, the identification of factors limiting long-term population viability, and the development of public information and education programs.


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Division of Endangered Species
911 N.E. 11th Avenue
Portland, Oregon 97232


Mozingo, H. N., and M. Williams. 1980. "Threatened and Endangered Plants of NevadaAn Illustrated Manual." U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Carson City, Nevada.

Reveal, J. 1981. "Notes on Endangered Buckwheats with Three Newly Described Forms from the Western United States." Brittonia 33:446.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1995. "Steamboat Buckwheat Recovery Plan." U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Portland.

Williams, M. 1982. "Status Report on Eriogonum ovalifolium var. williamsiae." Unpublished Report. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Portland.